By Elise Labott
A possible exchange of U.S. nutritional aid to North Korea for a halt to Pyongyang's uranium enrichment program has stalled with the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, U.S. and South Korean officials said Monday.
The prospective deal was expected to lead to the resumption of six-party disarmament talks, after which North Korea would have expected a larger amount of food aid, the officials told CNN. The announcement had been slated for this week, they said.
In addition to halting its production of enriched uranium, which can be used to build nuclear weapons, North Korea also would have let inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency return, they said.
But with the news that Kim had died of a heart attack over the weekend, the announcement has been delayed, the officials said. The Obama administration now believes that the ball is in the North Koreans' court, and they will need to signal whether they're still interested, the officials say.
The State Department spokeswoman said officials were supposed to meet at the State Department on Monday about this potential deal, but with the death of Kim Jong Il, those discussions have not happened.
Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, told reporters at a news conference that no final decision had been made by the U.S. government regarding the potential deal.
“The North Koreans are themselves going to go into a period of national mourning so we will obviously keep looking at this issue internally,” Nuland said. “We need to see where they are, where they go as they move through this transition period."
“We want to be respectful of the North Korean period of mourning. We will obviously need to engage at the right moment.”
Administration officials are mindful that there is a period of mourning and during that time the North Koreans will be inward looking.
The Obama administration is in the process of making a decision on issuing a condolence message regarding the death of North Korea's leader.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did offer some comments when appearing in Washington with her Japanese counterpart after a previously scheduled meeting.
“We reiterate our hope for improved relations with the people of North Korea and remain deeply concerned about their well-being," Clinton said.
What is anticipated, senior administration officials tell CNN, is something similar to what the U.S. did in 1994 when Kim Jong Il's father died. At the time, the Clinton administration issued condolences to the Korean people for the death of Kim Il Sung.
"On behalf of the people of the United States, I extend sincere condolences to the people of North Korea on the death of President Kim Il Sung," the President Bill Clinton statement said. "We appreciate his leadership in resuming the talks between our governments. We hope they will continue as appropriate."
The administration's first goal is to keep everyone calm militarily – including the South Koreans. While the officials wouldn’t say that South Korea raising its alert was unhelpful, the officials said the United States will be going to great lengths Monday to say the U.S. military in the region is remaining at normal status. (READ ALSO: U.S. seeing no unexpected moves by North Korea military)
The administration will be waiting for its first signals from the North Koreans to resume engagement. There has been some progress in talks with the North Koreans and so, in the words of one official, “they know where we left off.”
Officials said it would be great if the North Koreans came quickly out of the gate to re-engage, but nobody expecting signals that quickly.
There are no signs regarding who is calling the shots in the country right now. Officials said at a minimum, it’s government by committee.
Which, the officials said, makes giving them space all the more important and helps create better options for the United States.
American officials are speaking to all the members of the six-party talks which includes South Korea, China, Russia and Japan, in addition to the U.S. and North Korea. In addition to President Obama speaking with South Korean president Lee, Clinton spoke with South Korean Foreign Minister. She is meeting with the Japanese foreign minister at the State Department on Monday and has reached out to Chinese foreign minister.